Sunday, June 26, 2022
June 26, 2022

Linkedin Pinterest

Clark County Council OKs update to buildable lands model

By , Columbian staff writer

Clark County’s vacant buildable lands model is scheduled for a public hearing at 10 a.m. June 7. Prior to that hearing, Councilor Temple Lentz wants to see the model updated to better reflect how the county has developed and will allow for growth in the future.

“As we’ve been going through this process with the vacant buildable lands model and report, we’ve had a lot of conversations around some of the assumptions that are going into the model and the report,” Lentz said during Wednesday’s council time meeting. “We should make sure we have the strongest and most defensible report and model that we can.”

The vacant buildable lands model is the county’s planning tool for evaluating residential, commercial and industrial land needs within the urban growth area and whether there is enough land available to meet the needs of projected growth.

Lentz requested two changes to the model but noted she had others that needed to be discussed.

“One of the things that we discussed was density targets and whether to use achieved density or assumed density. The motion I would like to make is that we use achieved density rather than assumed density targets,” Lentz said.

Community Planning Director Oliver Orjiako told the council making this change would not only mean complying with state law but would make the report more accurate. Orjiako noted all of the cities within the county are seeing densities higher than assumed. He noted this was especially true for Vancouver.

“The achieved density will be a true reflection of what’s occurring on the ground, and I think they will agree that, instead of assigning eight units to an acre overall when they are coming in at 18, it makes no sense to assume that,” Orjiako said.

However, housing developers and builders may not be willing to support making the changes. Builders have told the council at previous meetings that more land is needed to meet the demands of projected growth.

“It will show that the remaining land or acreage available, if you use eight (housing units per acre) versus the 18, eight will get you much lower capacity in terms of what is available,” Orjiako said.

Councilor Julie Olson said the county is already seeing problems with how the model was developed.

“We made assumptions in the 2015 model with regards to growth in Vancouver and the other cities that’s not what happened. We didn’t account for redevelopment. We didn’t account for all of the residential housing units being built on already developed land. When we talk about achieved versus assumed, if we’re looking at the data, the only thing we should be able to report is what actually has occurred, not what we thought was going to occur,” Olson said.

County Manager Kathleen Otto said staff have reached out to the cities, which support using achieved densities.

The council voted 3-1 to approve the change with Chair Karen Bowerman voting against it. Councilor Gary Medvigy was absent from the meeting.

Lentz also asked to have the assumption that 21 percent of aggregate residential lands would convert to schools or parks either removed or reduced. Lentz said the estimate is inaccurate but also discussions about schools and parks should come later in the development process.

“It certainly flies in the face of the data we actually have in terms of parks and schools, and it’s certainly not 21 percent,” Olson said. “We’ve never had it in the (vacant buildable lands model) in the past. It’s always come on the comprehensive plan side.”

But making this and further changes didn’t sit well with Bowerman.

She said one of the problems in applying the model is when it appears there is land available, but really isn’t once it has been vetted.

“We’ve been seeing (that), for other reasons, in the county now, when developers have been sent away for lack of there being space and vacant land for them to develop,” Bowerman said. “This is the same kind of thing but just pertains to schools and parks.”

The 21 percent assumption applies to residential lands but not commercial lands.

“I see this as a dismantling of the availability of land to build in Clark County. I find that to be quite devastating,” Bowerman added.

The council split in a 2-2 vote with Olson and Lentz voting for the change and Bowerman and Councilor Richard Rylander Jr. voting against.

To save time, Lentz said she would discuss the remaining changes she wants made at the public hearing.

For an agenda or link to the June 7 public hearing, go to

Support local journalism

Your tax-deductible donation to The Columbian’s Community Funded Journalism program will contribute to better local reporting on key issues, including homelessness, housing, transportation and the environment. Reporters will focus on narrative, investigative and data-driven storytelling.

Local journalism needs your help. It’s an essential part of a healthy community and a healthy democracy.

Community Funded Journalism logo